Way back in 1897, a reply given by a noted editor, Francis Church, to a question put to him by a child named Virginia, remained a happy quote for long. “Is Santa Claus real?” “Yes, Virginia,” replied Church in his editorial in the New York Sun: “There is a Santa Claus.
He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas, how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa ... It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There will be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment except in sense and sight ... The real things in the world are those that no children or men can see!”
Our good earth has seen mighty events since—World Wars, revolutions, collapse of empires, end of monarchy, so on and so forth. New ideas and interests have swept humanity’s intellect. Santa Claus has become a dispensable fun. The opening line in Louisa May Alcott’s popular novel Little Women, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents—grumbled Jo, lying on the rug” has lost its relevance, for the concept of “presents” has radically changed.
We ought to squarely look at the reality. Virginia no more symbolises innocence. “Children are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them,” pronounces Sigmund Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud did not differentiate between the unconscious ego as the necessary instinctive fighter in the process of the child’s growth and the conscious self-centred ego of the grown-up. Added to such inadequate reading of the child which could potentially affect the natural protective poise of the grown-up, gadgets placed at the child’s disposal has taken a deadly toll of its natural dispositions. The child seems to be no longer what it was.
A survey published in the Sydney Morning Herald says, “Children addicted to using electronic devices may suffer from ‘Internet-use-disorder’, a newly discovered and serious mental illness ... Psychologists argue video games and Internet addictions share the characteristics of other addicts, including emotional shut-down, lack of concentration and withdrawal symptoms if the gadgets are removed.”
Indian children are falling prey to another equally bad if not worse abnormality for which the parents are even more directly responsible. According to the Association of Adolescent and Child Care in India (AACCI), children are growing more and more aggressive at a very small age, so much so that their negative emotional outbursts once limited to quarrels, pinching, spitting or fisticuffs, now manifests through stabbing and other horrendous acts of violence.
The chief cause behind such deterioration in their conduct is their suppressed anger because of their parents’ insistence on their success in competitions at the cost of their leisure, play and other spontaneous inclinations.
Christmas, unlike in the West, was not a widely observed festivity in India. But its spirit embraced both the child and the grown-up—a celebration of innocence and goodwill. Over the past few years the logistics of commerce and role of media have made its sway wider, but its quiet old spirit is hardly felt today.
The undeniable truth is we would love to live in a milieu of innocence and goodwill; we would love to see our children good and happy. Unfortunately, research asserts that the children today may be cleverer, but they are losing their creativity and imaginativeness. Further, their sense of subtle humour has become dull. We surely wish this deterioration would stop. Let us scan an anecdote that was in circulation in the sixties of the last century which may point to at least one clue in that direction.
A young father, while returning home from work, would pick up his little son from the school and fondly find out from him the lesson he learnt that day. One day the boy informed him that their Sister told them a story known as the Ramayana. But when the father asked him for the story, the boy assured him again and again that it will not be interesting for him at all. However, after much coaxing by the father, the child said, “Well, it is like this: the hero and the heroine were picnicking in the forest when a villain kidnapped the lady; the hero summoned his allies and they invaded the villain’s bungalow and rescued her.”
“Was this the Ramayana the teacher told you?” asked a shocked father. The son answered with a benign smile, “Dad, what our Sister told us was simply wonderful, but you wouldn’t believe that!” So the child loved the original story with all its adventures, natural and supernatural, but his father, in the boy’s estimate, being a matter-of-fact creature, the narrative had to be edited to suit his understanding!
To be truly helpful to the child, we have to awaken the child lying forgotten within ourselves. This author knows a busy father who weaned his child from its awful addiction to the gadgets by a regular reading session with him.
The child has not only become an ardent book lover, what is more, he stands convinced that even the best film version of a fiction is no substitute for reading, because the film is a digest offered to you by an average of the craftsmanship of the director, scriptwriter, photographer et al, whereas you are directly imbibing the creative inspiration of the author when you are reading his work.
Your imagination shapes the figure of the characters, the scenes and the situations exercising its own freedom; they are not given ready-made by others. Let the theme of our carol this Christmas be to activate the child in us, for the sake of the child.
Eminent author and recipient of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship